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This Group of Millennials Is Making Political Discourse Healthy Again

In the Philippines, young people with opposing views come together for respectful in-person discussions, in an effort to understand each other.

by Lia Savillo
14 October 2019, 12:45am

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

In the height of “cancel culture,” walking into a room full of activists can be quite intimidating. What if you disagree with their points or end up saying something that doesn’t meet their standard of “woke?”

These concerns have kept many from engaging with people with different ideologies and experiences, creating an echo chamber that limits healthy discourse. In the Philippines, this resulted in out-of-touch policies and widespread historical revisionism. But a group of eager millennials is trying to solve this.

Re: Pinas is a refresher course on issues the country is facing – like a social studies class for young professionals.

In September, a group of 20-somethings met up in a co-working space in Quezon City. In a casual room filled with vintage collectibles and alcoholic drinks, they shared their thoughts on politics and the way it’s perceived by Filipinos today.

Similar to a workshop, the organisers asked attendees what they felt were the most critical issues in the Philippines under the administration of controversial president Rodrigo Duterte. The goal of the event was to pinpoint trends of the current government and end it with suggestions on possible solutions to the country’s current problems, outside an intimidating or formal classroom setting.

One of the main issues raised was the pervasiveness of fake news and misinformation.

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Words participants associated with Duterte's administration. Photo courtesy of Disgruntled Young People.

“I think that news outlets should also be free [to access], not just Facebook content,” Bea Venezuela, an attendee, suggested as a solution to misinformation. In the Philippines, Facebook can be accessed for free on mobile, while users are charged data fees for other websites.

Another attendee, Pia Salazar, challenged that view, suggesting that news outlets and the way they present the news might be to blame. “I don’t think Facebook would let that happen. It also matters how these news outlets translate their stories to the masses. Is it written in a way that is understandable to the masses?”

The energy in the room was as if the future of the country depended on their answers.

By the end of the discussion, the group agreed that most problems under the current administration are rooted in its anti-poor policies and how politicians lack respect for the masses' basic human rights. They also recognised that some of the nation's most pressing issues are not contingent only upon the present administration, but from long-standing structural issues.

Coming to a consensus despite opposing views was a refreshing assurance to those in the room, especially amid divisive conversations on social media.

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Issues that attendees felt shook the Philippines in 2017. Photo courtesy of Disgruntled Young People.

Re: Pinas events are organised by Disgruntled Young People, a group of millennials from different fields. They’re from the academe, non-government agencies, design agencies, legal practice and the business sector. While all from various industries, they are united in one thing: they seek an alternative way to discuss various issues.

“Re: Pinas and the other events of DYP want to go beyond simply informing people regarding different social issues. DYP seeks to create spaces for communities of different people to come together and act together,” Manuel Angulo, one of the brains behind the event, told VICE.

The group first got together after the controversial burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes’ Cemetery in 2016, which was permitted by Duterte. Many Filipinos believed that Marcos, who robbed the Filipino people of billions of pesos during his dictatorship, was not deserving of the honour.

After his burial, frustrated young Filipinos sought a space to come together to make sense of the incident. Around 50 young people came together to discuss the burial and other divisive political issues including the administration’s war on drugs, and the death penalty being pushed by Congress, among others.

In January 2017, around 30 people came together again to talk about solutions to address these issues. Today, the gatherings are a regular occurrence.

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Participants explaining their answers to the audience. Photo courtesy of Disgruntled Young People.

“Re: Pinas and the other events of DYP want to go beyond simply informing people regarding different social issues. DYP seeks to create spaces for communities of different people to come together and act together,” Adrienne Onday, one of the organisers, said.

The discussions proved helpful.

“It felt like I was in college again. I had no idea working together [to brainstorm] was a feeling I missed,” Venezuela, a first-time attendee told VICE.

The group also uses social media, the biggest source of fake news in the Philippines, to educate other young people.

“Political organisations focus on the civil aspect, but discussions need to be more personal and engaging to encourage the youth to move in a way that builds long-term solutions and finds answers,” Onday said.

Their events used to simply have a speaker discussing a technical issue but they found this was too similar to a school lecture. The group now focuses on engagement to be more participative, wherein the input comes from attendees.

“There’s a sense of community now that allows them to go back to discuss issues and scrutinise what they know under different lenses,” said Onday.

Organizers have since extended their talks to include other organisations such as Usapang Lalaki (Boy Talk) which focuses on toxic masculinity. With the overwhelming information era, what topics to prioritise has become difficult, but the events have helped steer them in the right direction.

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Attendees discussing possible solutions to the country's current problems. Photo courtesy of Disgruntled Young People.

“There’s so much information around us and these types of events help us know what to prioritise. It helps us learn about what is relevant nationally,” Onday said.

The discussions are also a good refresher for attendees, especially with the surplus of information on social media.

“They were educational in the sense that I got to remember a lot of the current events I forgot happened! I also like getting to hear from people who have different views but also share the same concern for what we're going through at the moment,” Salazar told VICE.

Venezuela agreed. “I’d never really heard of anything quite like it post-college, so I’m really glad these events exist. I thought those spaces for casual yet intellectual discussion were gone in this generation, so it’s nice to know it sort of still somehow exists.”

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the surname Onday. It also originally said DYP's main focus was misinformation and historical revisionism, but has been corrected to reflect the wider scope of their work. VICE apologises for the error.